The company Lumosity has agreed to pay $2 million to settle a federal complaint that alleged claims about the benefits of its cognitive games for student and adults were not sufficiently backed up by science.
The settlement with the Federal Trade Commission is part of a stipulated court order for $50 million against Lumosity, a judgment the agency has agreed to suspend as long as the company follows the conditions of the court order.
As part of the agreement, the San Francisco-based company will be barred from stating that its products improve student performance in school or sports, and can help stave off the onset of age-related cognitive decline, unless Lumosity can meet certain thresholds for evidence. Among them: The company’s claims must be shown to be “non-misleading” and backed up by “competent and reliable” scientific research.
The FTC said a federal judge finalized the agreement late last week.
“The decision to settle with the FTC will allow the company to move on and continue delivering its research-based cognitive training platform to its millions of active and future users,” Lumosity said in a statement to Education Week.
Many companies in the ed-tech space boast or imply that their products can play a role in improving students’ performance in school. But in its complaint, the FTC accused Lumosity of going too far in describing the cognitive payoff from its games, thus engaging in unfair or deceptive practices, in violation of federal law.
Lumosity uses a variety of “brain-training” games, each of which targets different areas of the brain, according to the FTC’s complaint. The company recommends that users train with the games for 10-15 minutes, several days a week, federal officials said.
The company’s online and mobile-app subscriptions vary in price, from $14.95 per month to lifetime memberships for $299.95, the complaint says.
The FTC challenged Lumosity’s claims — put forward in advertisements and consumer testimonials — that its work was built on proven neuroscience research, and that it could improve performance in school and at work.
The Lumosity products covered in the federal settlement include the Lumosity Program, LumiKids, and “any product, program, device, or service for children or adults that purports to alter the brain’s structure or function,” or improve cognitive ability or offset impairment.
Lumosity, under the settlement, will be barred from making a claim that it achieves those goals unless it is backed up by “competent and reliable scientific evidence to substantiate that the representation is true.” That evidence includes randomized tests conducted by qualified researchers.
The FTC also said that Lumosity, on its website and through marketing materials, provided testimonials from those who claimed to be consumers who benefited from the companies’ games — in school, at work, and through sports performance. But federal officials said 46 of those testimonials were not “spontaneously generated,” but instead were solicited by the company as part of contests where participants received prizes, a fact that the FTC said was not adequately disclosed.
As part of the settlement, Lumosity agrees to disclose relationships between people endorsing the product and the company, as well as the use of any prizes to come up with endorsements.
In a statement, Lumosity officials said the FTC’s complaint focused on “certain discontinued marketing language.” Company officials pointed to a peer-reviewed randomized control study of a Lumosity product that showed positive results for improved cognitive function, as measured by subjects completing crossword puzzles.
While those results are “promising,” the company said, Lumosity will “need to do more research to determine the connection between improved assessment scores and performance at school.”
The company would not say how many students are using its products. But it said it serves more than 70 million users combined, who have played 3 billion games since the product was launched eight years ago.